WILLIAMSTOWN -- This year's Riverfest on May 25 will celebrate the Hoosic River and its watershed through a variety of events that include nature walks, art installations, animal observation and Native American story telling.
Steven McMahon, president of Hoosic River Watershed Association, which organizes the annual festival, said its goal is to provide an opportunity for local communities to engage directly with the Hoosic River, which many of us have only experienced from afar.
Rafting rides throughout the day (depending on the water level) will begin behind Bud Anderson Field near Cole Avenue and end about a mile downstream at Lauren's Launch, a boat landing named for Lauren Stevens, who founded Riverfest in 1986 and is a member of HooRWA's board of directors.
"It's not a very long ride," Stevens said, but over the course of a day, with four rafts, a trailer and a van, "we can probably take the better part of 100 people down. They're short trips but they get a lot of people onto the river."
A staple of Riverfest is the "Riverworks" art exhibit, which began in the 1990s. Each year several artists create works that reflect their experience of the river, and install them along the river's banks beyond the far edge of Cole Field. Visitors can walk along the riverside trails and encounter works of art that seem to jump out from the landscape.
One of the earliest Riverworks installations was a raptor's nest built on platforms in a tree, Stevens said.
In another work, "Predator's Gate," by the same artist, the footprints of various predators - including humans - were displayed on a branch crossing the trail.
This year's activities will include a performance by MoCA Jam, a group of musicians from North County and from the Albany area, who play Saturday mornings in the Lickety Split café at MASS MoCA.
HooRWA is active as far north (downstream) as Hoosick Falls, N.Y. and at many locations in the Massachusetts and Vermont portions of the 720-square-mile watershed. The Hoosic River is itself a tributary of the Hudson River, which it joins at Stillwater, N.Y., and which empties into Upper New York Bay.
"Although our headquarters are in Williamstown, we certainly would like to think that we represent the whole river," Stevens said.
In addition to collecting water and biological samples throughout the year at many of the river's branches and tributaries, HooRWA also examines land use, pollution and other factors that can affect the health of the watershed.
HooRWA's current projects include working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a greenway in Hoosick Falls, and investigating wetlands along the Walloomsac River (a tributary of the Hoosic) in Bennington, where a local group is considering acquiring the property and making it public land.
Stevens explained that there is no correct way to spell the river's name. In general, he said, it is spelled "Hoosic," but in New York, it is often spelled "Hoosick," like the town, while the mountains east of Adams are called the "Hoosac" Mountains. Hoosac Valley High School, being at the foot of those mountains, follows suit.
"But further down the river in Schaghticoke," he said, "they spell it the same way that we do: H-o-o-s-i-c. So it's just European settlers' attempts to spell an Indian name that was probably never written down.
"One thought about Hoosic is that it means ‘beyond-place,' because the Mahican Indians who were really the Indians in this part of the world, lived along the Hudson River, so they kind of thought of this area as a place beyond the river, a place where they went for their hunting camps and things like that - up into the Hoosic."
Highlighting the river's importance in local Native American history, Fidel Moreno of Healing Winds, a Native American cultural and educational group in Lenox, will return to Riverfest for a second year to offer Native American drumming, teepee making and story telling.
Much of HooRWA's work relies on community partnerships and on the work of volunteers, said McMahon. Berkshire Natural Resources Council, Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation and Williams College are among the many groups that enable HooRWA to carry out its mission to restore and protect the river and its watershed and to offer educational opportunities to the community.
Events such as Riverfest and the Hoosic River Ride (a day of bike rides in August and a major source of funding for HooRWA) further allow the group to partner with local businesses. At Riverfest, the ticket cost includes entry into a raffle for a variety of outdoor-related prizes from The Gear Den, Berkshire Outfitters, The Spoke and other local businesses.
In most years, the proceeds from Riverfest are only enough for HooRWA to break even. "The Riverfest is more an educational opportunity," McMahon said. "We see it as a chance to bring families to the river. I like to say if people can touch the river they gain an appreciation for what it is and how it flows and where it goes.
"Many people travel across the Hoosic in their cars or other forms of transportation," he said, "but the ability to raft the river or stand by the edge of the river is an important thing, particularly for young people - to build a relationship.
"So the program proceeds, they pay for the event."
Riverfest will be held May 25 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cole Field in Williamstown. Tickets can be purchased for $5 at Williamstown Savings Bank before the event, or for $8 at the gate. For more information visit hoorwa.org.